Dharamsala: Despite completing a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand in the Test rubber, India will be wary of the visitors' prowess in the shorter format when both the teams face off in the first of the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series.
With the conditions at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) stadium favouring the pacers, New Zealand will bank on their recent ODI performance -- winning four of their last five bilateral competitions, including a recent series win over Australia -- to give a tough fight to the hosts.
Moreover, Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson has a better squad at his disposal, with the return of pacer Tim Southee and all-rounder Corey Anderson, making them a force to reckon with. Southee was ruled out with a late injury while Anderson's arrival would bolster their misfiring middle-order.
However, Williamson will need runs from two of his most experienced batsmen -- Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill -- who have failed to click so far on this tour.
Guptill, who scored just 159 runs from six innings, will not let those failures affect him in the ODIs. The opener has an average of 43.25 in ODIs with a strike-rate of 86.08, and is one of only five people in world cricket to have scored a double century in 50 overs.
Having said that, New Zealand's best chance of scripting history -- they have never won a bilateral ODI series in India -- will depend heavily on Williamson. The skipper needs to provide stability to the team and score runs, and also ensure the likes of Anderson and James Neesham in the lower order can have a go at scoring quick runs.
Also with both premier spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja rested for the ODIs, the Kiwis will heave a sigh of relief when they take the field in the black jersey. Ashwin and Jadeja tormented the New Zealanders with the Chennai off-spinner emerging the highest wicket-taker of the Test series with 27 scalps.
On the other hand, despite being the favourites, India have a comparatively untested side for the first three ODIs. Apart from Ashwin and Jadeja, pacer Mohammed Shami has also been rested.
Injuries to Lokesh Rahul, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan have ruled the trio out, creating chances for promising players like Mandeep Singh, Manish Pandey, Dhawal Kulkarni and Axar Patel -- all of them part of the squad that toured Zimbabwe in India's last 50-over cricket assignment.
Senior batsman Suresh Raina has also been recalled to the squad, but he will miss the first ODI due to viral fever.
With Manish performing in India A's tour of Australia and the aggressive Hardik Pandya in the side, Dhoni can afford to come up the order and bat with Kohli in the middle overs besides pushing Ajinkya Rahane to open with Rohit Sharma.
Maharashtra keeper-batsman Kedar Jadhav may well get a look-in as a pure batsman with Dhoni donning the big gloves.
The Dharamsala pitch generally assists pacemen and that could give Dhawal Kulkarni a place in the playing XI alongside Jasprit Bumrah, while Axar Patel, Amit Mishra and Umesh Yadav are the likely options in the bowling department.
The Dharamsala ODI will be followed by matches in Delhi (October 20), Mohali (October 23), Ranchi (October 26) and Visakhapatnam (October 29). All five are day-and-night encounters.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Captain & wk), Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Jayant Yadav, Amit Mishra, Jasprit Bumrah, Dhawal Kulkarni, Umesh Yadav, Mandeep Singh, Kedar Jadhav.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (Captain), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Anton Devcich, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, B.J. Watling (wk).